THE BLOG
11/01/2013 11:41 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

My Kids Read for HOURS Every Day... Electronically

Here is where I'm coming from today as I sit down to mull this disclosure:

My pat morning routine includes NPR podcasts while I'm preparing for the day, and today's queue included an interesting story on the deluge of (and resistance to) tablets, iPads and other digital devices in the classroom, titled "School's iPad Initiative Brings Optimism and Skepticism."

As I sat down at my desk, I then found that the story du jour was New York Magazine's look into the use of digital devices by children under 2. It was linked to everywhere and had parents talking.

Later, when my daughter got out of school, she asked if she could buy Allegiant, the third book in the massively popular Divergent series, on her device. As she began to read it, she looked up at me and told me she'd forgotten all the characters and plot lines from the first two books of the series (more on this later).

This evening, as I was running an errand at Target, my son ran into a similarly popular book, House of Hades. This is also a part of a YA series, the Heroes of Olympus, which you may recognize from the half-decent Percy Jackson movies. He asked if he could buy it with his allowance, and of course, I jumped at the prospect. Spend your allowance on a paper book, instead of a video game or chewy Sweet Tarts? Um, yes. Yes please. But, when he saw the price, he balked. Both my kids are accustomed to the lower prices of eBooks, and the cost of this book was actually shocking to them.

Lastly, as I was checking my email just now, I came upon my reminder about Digital Book World 2014, which is fast approaching, scheduled for January, 2014.

My children, home, work and life have been inundated by digital books and e-reading, as have everyone else's, by the looks of it. I'm proud to say that both my children read for hours every day. However, this is where I hesitate. They're not settling into a comfy chair or going to bed early with a trusty book. Instead, they're whipping out their devices before I'm even out of the school parking lot. They're checked-out and glassy-eyed as I lead them through errands or while we're standing in grocery store lines. They're parked in the living room with iThings in front of their faces as soon as their chores and homework are done.

Is this brag-worthy or cringe-worthy? I'm not sure anymore.

Increased Reading Time

Before electronics made their debut in my house, reading was the practice of popping out the timer before bed, as requested and required by teachers and principals. They enjoyed it, they chose their titles and they didn't really complain. But, they weren't enthusiastic. I wasn't pestered for new titles. I wasn't subjected to long rundowns of plot lines and recitations of series book titles. Studies like this one by Scholastic underline my experience, and they especially note the more marked increase for boys that I have seen, too. But, what's the flip side?

Well, as Digital Book World recently detailed, the retention ability of those who read on devices is called into question. Remember that my daughter couldn't quite keep the Divergent characters straight and recall the plot line? She read the first two books in that series just this summer! What is the distraction factor at play here? Although my kids tend to read between several different devices, including a Nook and a laptop, my daughter's device of choice is sometimes her iPhone. How many texts and tweets interrupt her reading time, and does that factor into this issue?

Another issue for some parents is the loss of control. Not only is the digital reading world just another outlet for advertising to be thrown at our kids, but there are other issues here, too. The platform Kobo recently had an issue with erotica being listed side-by-side with children's titles. Any parent knows that the introduction of other elements is present when you hand your kid a digital device. I've found this is significantly less of a problem with dedicated readers like the Nook, but other devices do present an issue.

So, what's the balance here? What do you think? Is the marked increase in reading time worth the potential downside? Are the lively discussions about books at the dinner table a fair trade for a little bit of advertising thrown my kids' way? I'm not looking to take my children's devices away anytime soon, but each parent has to come up with their own answer and balance.

So, what's yours?